Technological advancements have dramatically transformed the workplace making many work-related tasks more efficient. Computers have made our jobs infinitely easier. Problem is, the sedentary lifestyle is responsible for an influx of musculoskeletal disorders. These plague employees and employers in terms of how they feel and how they work. In response, the field of ergonomics has grown exponentially to combat the mounting number of work-related musculoskeletal disorders.
A quick search of “ergonomics” on the internet reveals hundreds of thousands of websites, many of which offer advice on workstation design. In some cases these recommendations are helpful, but sometimes they fall short. The recommendations often fail to account for each employee’s individuality in body composition, level of conditioning, or history of musculoskeletal disorders.
Find the Right Tools
Often employers seek out consultations from professionals, such as an ergonomist or physical therapist, to analyze a workstation and make recommendations to reduce the risk of workplace musculoskeletal disorders. This is where professionals can use technological advancements to solve the problem. This is where electromyography (EMG) can become part of their assessment process.
EMG and Ergonomics
EMG is the recording of muscle activity and has many clinical and diagnostic applications. In the past, the equipment needed was expensive and required extensive training to use. Today’s affordable and user-friendly EMG sensors have made this technology much more accessible. Plus, Bluetooth technology makes it much easier to use in the workplace.
With proper use, EMG will prove to be an invaluable tool in workstation design. It can be used by practitioners to properly assess a workstation by quantifying levels of muscle activity in common offenders, including the upper trapezius, suboccipital musculature, lumbar paraspinals, wrist extensors, and finger flexors. Therefore, placing surface electrodes on the muscle of interest allows practitioners to make subtle adjustments in the workstation to find the ideal design to minimize unwanted muscle activity.
EMG Offers Customized Ergonomics Suggestions
Traditionally, workstation design focuses on one point in time, but mechanics change based on the time of day. This analysis can lead to bias in set up. We all lean closer to the computer screen the longer we sit at a computer. Often, we adjust our rear-view mirror on our way home, tilting it down based on changes in sitting posture. These slight changes are often not detectable and can lead to the development of musculoskeletal disorders. Therefore, the employee of interest is hyper-focused on body mechanics because of the evaluation and will make every effort to sit in the ideal posture. This is where surface EMG can be the eyes of the assessing clinician without being present.
8-Hour Ergonomics Assessments
EMG can offer the benefit of an 8-hour work day assessment to monitor changes that are inevitable, but previously imperceptible. This quantifiable data is vital to recommendations, for example, when to sit versus stand with the development of adjustable workstations, the angle of the computer screen, or level of brightness on the screen. In addition, surface EMG worn throughout the day can improve the employees’ level of awareness of their posture, which in turn will have a positive effect on body mechanics and a reduction in musculoskeletal disorders.
Finally, surface EMG can be beneficial to all parties, the clinician, the employee, and the employer. The application of EMG will revolutionize the field of ergonomics, so spread the word!
About the Author
Corey Sylvain is a physical therapist with 16 years of experience working in outpatient orthopedic and home health care. He has advanced skills in manual therapy completing a residency program for manual therapy in the Kaltenborn approach. In addition to traditional physical therapy practice, he holds a masters degree in public health. Additionally, outside of his professional role he values living a healthy active lifestyle and the importance of family.
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